On Ezra Levant and Glenn Greenwald


I have no interest in defending those attacked by Glenn Greenwald in this blog post—they are more than capable of defending themselves—but a few words on his denunciation of this Reason piece by Canadian journalist Ezra Levant, in which he details his Orwellian experiences with Alberta's "human rights commission." The article is excerpted from Levant's new book Shakedown, which Greenwald calls "self-glorifying," a book that "relentlessly depict[s] himself as a modern-day Thomas Paine battling against Muslim censors and their leftist, free-speech-hating Western allies." For those who have read Levant's account of his creepy ordeal with the Canadian thought police, the description of "Muslim censors" seems a perfectly reasonable. (Also, Greenwald might want to actually read Levant's book/Reason piece, where he would discover that proceedings were initiated not for publishing an "anti-Islamic screed" but for reprinting the Danish "Mohammad cartoons.")

According to Greenwald, pundits defending (the almost always indefensible) Michael Savage, who was recently barred from entering the UK, are "blatantly insincere" and interested in "nothing more than a means of opportunistically elevating and justifying their anti-Islamic animus." This is a verifiable "fact," he argues, "conclusively demonstrated by how selectively self-interested is the application of their free speech 'principles.'" Greenwald wonders where Levant, Mark Steyn, and Jonah Goldberg were when Norman Finkelstein was bounced from Israel; when George Galloway was prevented from entering Canada; and when Tariq Ramadan denied a visa to teach at Notre Dame.

On one of these points, I partially agree with Greenwald. As the liberal Israeli paper Haaretz editorialized, while it is "difficult to sympathize with [Norman] Finkelstein's opinions," such as outspoken support for Hezbollah and Hamas, "It is not for the government to decide which views should be heard here and which ones should not." The Israeli government made no claim that Finkelstein was offering financial or logistical support to either terrorist group, and later acknowledged that it was his furious anti-Zionism that precipitated the ban. Though I think the ban unjustified and counterproductive, I'm not convinced that if Levant (or Steyn, Goldberg, or any of the others mention by Greenwald) didn't spring to Finkelstein's defense this necessarily qualifies as hypocrisy. Must one make a public statement on every such case? Does not speaking on Finkelstein's behalf "conclusively demonstrate" that these writers are not interested in free speech? If Canada's version of Normal Finkelstein—whoever that might be—were dragged before a so-called Human Rights Commission in Alberta and quizzed on his motivation for publishing an anti-Zionist article—and Levant remained silent—perhaps Greenwald's case would be more compelling.

The other two examples, though, are rather more complicated. Greenwald's suggestion that the U.K.'s banning of the obnoxious and subliterate Savage is the moral equivalent of Canada's ban of the obnoxious and subliterate Galloway is either disingenuous or greatly misinformed. Galloway was told by the Canadian government that, because of his well-documented financial support for Hamas (designated a terrorist organization in Canada), he would not be welcome in the country. This was, as University of British Columbia professor Terry Glavin points out, a decision taken following these events:

Galloway had delivered roughly $2 million (Cdn.) in vehicles, various goods and cash, directly to Hamas boss Ismail Haniyeh. Galloway boasted about this, and openly dared British and European authorities to charge him for breaking the sanctions against Hamas, and he went so far as to stage an event for Al Jazeera television in which he handed over a wad of cash in the equivalent of about $50,000 (Cdn.) directly to Haniyeh. Around the time Orr was composing his letter to Galloway, the British Charity Commission was preparing an investigation into the transactions Galloway was involved with in Gaza.

Writing in Slate, Christopher Hitchens defended his old adversary against the Canadian ban but later amended his column, writing that he "may have done an injustice to the government and people of Canada in the matter of George Galloway's canceled visit to that country."

On the subject of Tariq Ramadan, it seems rather clear that Greenwald is correct that the American government was determined to exclude him based on his radical political views alone. As my friend Michael Weiss observed a few weeks back, "judging by the revised mealy-mouthed language and muddled chronology of his visa revocation process that the State Department was simply looking for any excuse to keep him out."

But I must object to Greenwald's lazy description of Ramadan as a "Swiss intellectual and leading scholar of the Muslim world" who is "widely considered to be a moderate Muslim scholar." Is this the same man who, as Ibn Warraq wrote in 2008, "called the terrorist acts in New York, Madrid, and Bali 'interventions'"? And according to various European intelligence services, Ramadan's ties to violent extremism  are very real indeed. One example, from a Swiss intelligence report, notes that "brothers Hani and Tariq Ramadan coordinated a meeting held in 1991 in Geneva attended by Ayman Al-Zawahiri and Omar Abdel Rahman." Zawahiri, of course, helped plan the September 11 attacks. Abdel Rahman is the "blind sheik" sentenced to life in prison for his role in planning the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. For further into Ramadan's connections to radical Islamism, see Paul Berman's exhaustive piece in The New Republic or French journalist Caroline Fourest's book Brother Tariq.

Again, Greenwald is right that the decision to reject Ramadan's visa was politically motivated and should be overturned. The point, though, is that his ties—both intellectual and financial—to an extremist version of Islam prevent any serious comparison to the cases of Savage and Levant.

It should also be stressed that it isn't odd, as Greenwald writes, that Alan Dershowitz, who has been engaged in a long-running and deeply personal spat with Norman Finkelstein, would upbraid Israel for banning him. Nor was it particularly surprising to see Deborah Lipstadt, who was sued by Holocaust denier David Irving for libel, speak out against his imprisonment by the Austrian government. That I haven't heard either of them denounce the British government rulings on Savage and Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders means nothing. Indeed, I can find no reference on Greenwald's blog on the Wilder's case, though I am confident that, if asked, he would judge the decision silly and counterproductive.

As Greenwald writes, "One either believes in free expression or one doesn't, and if one does, it means opposing efforts to circumscribe those ideas with which one vehemently disagrees." Indeed. But in the cases of Galloway and Ramadan, it is wrong to suggest that the issue is only about the right to offend.